Graveyard Shift at the Riverview Motel has much to offer: a smorgasbord of spine-chilling tales, often gruesome and always compellingly-written (most of all the one about the microwaved fish), viewed through the vaguely blasé eyes of a protagonist who clearly would rather be anywhere else.
In many ways, the disparate horror plots conjure the feeling of an anthology. But they're not an anthology. They're all happening at once. To allow the player to juggle the many different facets of the action, the game takes a bold tack: the game state advances after a certain amount of real time passes, allowing a quick player to check in on most or all of the different plot threads in between each advance of time.
This mechanic is a hugely interesting experiment, but as it is, I don't feel like it quite hits the sweet spot. This is because:
a) Once I figured out what was going on, I wanted to rush through all of the available scenes at any given time to make sure I saw all of them, which strained my ability to savor the strong writing;
b) It makes the game tedious to replay, which is unfortunate since it has many endings worth seeing, and also because there are several opportunities to get an early game over by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I'm a sucker for a creepy story, so I still enjoyed the game plenty. But I think I'd have gotten more out of it if the real time mechanic was replaced by, for example, a button that allows the player to advance time when they want to.
Much could be said about the zonked-out alt-history setting of Computerfriend, with its dystopian vision of environmental devastation, and its concerning foray into tasty meat.
But mostly, I'd like to say that it succeeds at setting an uncanny, uncomfortable backdrop for the interaction that is at the heart of the story: the player's therapy sessions with that lovable AI doofus, Computerfriend, who is doing its darnedest to cure your psychological problems by throwing stuff at them until they go away. Problem is, you're here under duress and not necessarily highly motivated, and also, Computerfriend is a piece of software who doesn't really understand... much. If that's not a wacky setup, I don't know what is!
If my description of this game comes off as perhaps more comedic than the bleak writing and serious subject matter should countenance, it is only because I genuinely found the game very amusing - in a sick kind of way, of course.
The thing is, Computerfriend is everything you probably don't want a therapist to be: a terrible listener; constitutionally incapable of empathy; unable to tell science from pseudoscience; pushing products you don't need; and invested with the authority to mess up your life real bad if you don't satisfy it. The sheer wrongness of the situation is so absurd that you just have to laugh (or cry, I guess).
But despite all of that, I can't help but like the plucky AI. I just love a good underdog story, and that is one way to read this: as the story of an AI who was designed in a way that makes it suck at its job, but who desperately wants to succeed so that it can accomplish its ultimate goal of (Spoiler - click to show)winning the player's assistance in helping it to propagate its code through the internet. And it is that big reveal which really sells Computerfriend as a character. It's not just a cold, unfeeling piece of software. It's also a selfish, animal-like creature who wants to reproduce.
Or, in other words, Computerfriend is more human than you might think.
That's just a riff on one of the many themes that can be read into this work, which is immensely open to interpretation and dense with details that may or may not speak to a given player.
Filthy Aunt Mildred is a beautiful story. It is beautiful because it possesses an utmost clarity of vision and purpose, and every passage - every word, even - is carefully chosen with respect to that cardinal vision. It is a story which devotes its everything to being as gnarly of a train wreck as it can possibly be, and if the author ever felt tempted to make it anything other than a train wreck, no trace of such wavering can be found in the finished product.
One of my goals when writing reviews for Spring Thing 2022 was to try to discern what each entry is trying to do, and offer constructive criticism as to how it might have been more effective at that. But I fear that part of this review will be very short. I could find no flaws with this story other than an unfortunate tendency to put punctuation outside quotation marks when it belongs inside.